Lest We Forget: Mind Over Matter; VT-26

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

One example of her importance to the war effort came when the Allies were planning an invasion of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Because the surf was low on the western side of the island-making it the obvious site for a landing-the Japanese had heavily fortified their defenses there. Sears and her team were able to produce a reliable report indicating conditions were right for a landing on the eastern side of the island instead, thereby flanking the Japanese Army and assuring victory at a lesser cost.

While it is altogether fitting that we honor those who contribute to victory in war through courage and physical exertions, we must never underestimate the importance of cerebral capabilities, as well. A great deal more courage and physical exertion might well have been needed without the likes of Mary Sears. The Navy did well when it reconsidered its earlier decision to exclude her from the war.

—Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)


Training Squadron 26 (VT-26) was established on 1 March 1960 as Air Training Unit 223 (ATU-223) at NAS Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. Only two months later, on 1 May 1960, the squadron was redesignated VT-26.

VT-26 was assigned the role of training future fighter pilots in the art of high-altitude air-combat tactics and weapons employment. Equipped with F11F-1 (later F-11A) Tiger fighter jets, the unit was also unique for a training squadron because, during the most intense years of the Cold War, it was assigned a secondary role of providing interceptor forces for the North American Air Defense Command. The squadron's fighters were armed with Sidewinder air-to-air-missiles for this role.

Adopting the name of the aircraft they flew, the Tigers also took on the role of providing familiarization training for future pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron-the Blue Angels-which also flew the Tiger fighter.

The Tigers became a more conventional training squadron in 1967 when they retired their F-11As and acquired TF-9J and TAF-9J Cougar trainers to provide advanced jet flight training for student naval aviators.

In 1971, when the Naval Air Training Command adopted the concept of training at a single base, the role of VT-26 switched from advanced to intermediate jet training. The squadron operated the T-2C Buckeye to introduce students to jet aircraft, carrier landings, and catapult launches. The Tigers also provided jet training to pilots in transition from other aircraft types.

At the end of the Cold War, the Navy"s pilot training requirement dropped in concert with force-level reductions. VT-26 was disestablished on 22 May 1992, the first of the three training squadrons assigned to Training Air Wing 3 to be shut down with the impending closure of Chase Field.

—Lieutenant Commander Rick Burgess, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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